In this third article I’m wrapping up my examination of Influent, the immersive 3D language tool/game created by the independent developer, Three Flip Studios. I’m finding it extremely useful and effective – sometimes surprisingly so. In everyday situations, it’s odd to find a relevant Russian word bubble to the surface of consciousness without actually realising that I knew it in the first place! Does that make sense?
As I write this I glance across at my холодильник, my fridge. I would normally say “fridge”, right? Take a look at the previous two articles to complete the picture but – in the briefest recap – Influent requires you to assemble word lists by naming objects found as you explore a 3D environment (a virtual flat/apartment). You are subsequently tested on your knowledge in manageable chunks and rewarded with achievement goals as you progress.
The image/text/audio association per item really is the killer combo here. There is also some welcome degree of interactivity involved as you explore the enclosed environment. More items are revealed as you open various drawers, doors, cupboards and kitchen storage on your voyage through this domestic microcosm. You can also crouch to peer under the furniture – handy for locating hidden items – and zoom in on an object (mouse-wheel only) for accurate selection. Pretty flexible in all. The one minor navigational irritation I found is that I couldn’t side-step and turn at the same time. Seemingly petty, I know; but in 3D game environments this combo is taken for granted for maximum fluidity. Suddenly having such a ‘normal’ option removed becomes a persistent niggle – though certainly not a deal-breaker.
Another limitation is arguably the relatively limited world that you find yourself in. That’s in spite of the immediately hidden content that is ultimately available. I write “arguably” because for the price, can we complain? Hardly. Perhaps it’s a case of the content and execution being realised so well that we are simply left wanting more. I’d like to open the apartment door and take a walk into town, eager to find new locations and words to practice, but this of course is a whole world removed from the relatively modest (and manageable) aims of Influent mark #1, its independent developer origins and its retail price. Leave them wanting more – as the saying goes.
At some point during your time with Influent, it suddenly clicks: this concept has the potential to be colossal, frankly, and really deserves to be. The possibilities of expansion are vast; opening your virtual apartment door and taking a walk down the street would only be the beginning. There’s literally a whole world out there. You’ve got to hope that Three Flip’ have their patent and copyright formalities in order.
In a curious, tangential way, Three Flip Studios do touch upon some of the expansion potential inherent in the concept, in the form of Fly-By mode, acessed after mastering 50 words. Here we suddenly take a dream-like jump into flying a model jet around the apartment, hunting and laser-zapping various list items as their names are read out to you in your target-language. It also demonstrates exactly why we don’t fly model jets around cramped bedsits, as you hang on just too long to destroy your target and subsequently impact a solid surface whilst trying to pull out of a dive.
That’s until you discover that pressing Ctrl puts on the ‘air-brakes’ – an option unlisted in the game’s otherwise useful control dialogue. A curious but crucial omission and the difference between fun and unplayable. ‘Shift‘ engages the afterburner – similarly hidden; and suddenly Fly-By becomes a completely different experience.
It’s challenging, largely successful and fun once you get the hang of it. The third-person view is somewhat redundant here as it places your POV behind the jet, directly obscuring the (often small) objects that you are trying to locate. It takes quite a few hits to destroy an item meaning that you’ll be hanging onto that Ctrl key, plenty (or crashing into walls). We may be here a while.
All in all it seems like an idea from a future Influent, where the world, the interactivity options and the remit are much broader. Here it remains a tantalising novelty, but a talking point nonetheless.
Generally, the game-play is solid and well-structured throughout, the vocabulary expansion excellent and the achievement goals are fun to nail – encouraging progression effectively. Influent is a little too generous when deciding that I have “mastered” a word! Thanks, but I really haven’t, with only three hits. Nonetheless, it’s a great tool and yes, I’d recommend it.
[Image by Three Flip Studios]